Thursday, August 21, 2014
As protests continue in Ferguson, MO over the shooting death of Michael Brown, the L.A. City Council reminds us that the costs of excessive force by police extends beyond the physical and emotional pain such violence causes. Yesterday, by a 12-2 vote, the council approved a $5 million settlement in the civil rights case that followed the 2013 shooting death of Brian Newt Beiard. As The Los Angeles Times reports:
The incident began around 9:30 p.m. [on Dec. 13] as a suspected drunk- or reckless-driver pursuit in Cudahy by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies. The LAPD took over the chase when it reached city limits.
Beaird was driving erratically and at high speeds on freeways and surface streets. With several LAPD cars following him, he slammed his Corvette into a Nissan crossing the intersection at Olympic Boulevard and Los Angeles Street, sending the Nissan into a fire hydrant.
After initially trying to drive his mangled car, Beaird stepped out of the Corvette and staggered to the back of the car, with his hands up at one point and his back to the officers. Within moments, TV footage showed objects — possibly nonlethal rounds — bouncing off Beaird almost in concert with crackling gunfire.
Beaird fell to the ground, where he flailed from side to side before lying still as officers approached.
The question, of course, is not whether police were pursuing a criminal--even a potentially violent one. Rather, the question is whether the use of force by police was excessive under the circumstances. The belief that a jury may well have found that the officers' use of force under the above circumstances was excessive compelled the council to agree to the settlement amount.
Councilman Bernard Parks, a former LAPD chief, said that the case was serious enough to warrant such a large payout and that a jury could have awarded far more had the case gone to trial.
"This is a case that clearly had significant potential liability far beyond what the settlement offer was," he said. "It was a good business decision when you have a loss of life and you have evidence that could be viewed as overwhelming against the city of L.A."
The settlement was approved by a 12-2 vote. Two council members who have served with the LAPD voted against the payout, saying the shooting appeared justified. Councilman Mitchell Englander said the officers could not see the driver's hands when he fell so could not be sure whether he had a weapon.
Beaird's father originally had requested $20 million in damages.
The $5 million settlement is the largest for a fatal shooting by L.A. police in the last ten years.